Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang (1956) is the fifth Brent of Bin Bin novel chronologically, though it was the sixth and last published. The ‘Gyang Gyang’ of the title refers to the station (grazing property) Gyang Gyang Plains where the action is set – the ‘Gentlemen’ are the workers on the station – which is in turn named for the ubiquitous gang-gang cockatoos.
I read this and the final Brent of Bin Bin novel, Back to Bool Bool, on my kindle while I was away – they’re not formatted (or proof-read) very well and I ended up reading in landscape to make the lines wrap properly. I will review this one direct from kindle but have located via Abe Books good copies of both – I’m a book collector at heart, just masquerading as a reviewer – and should have them in my hands before I review Back to Bool Bool and wrap up the series.
Apart from Prelude to Waking, which I can see now forms no part of the high country families saga either stylistically or by subject matter, the Brent novels were written in the order I have discussed them, in the latter years of the 1920s. Jill Roe writes that GGG, full name Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang: A Tale of the Jumbuck Pads on the Summer Runs, is the novel of Franklin’s return to Australia, “and should be read as such”. In February 1928 Franklin, who had returned from England the previous year to care for her parents in Sydney, “caught the night train for Cooma and beyond”, to spend time with her Lampe (Labosseer in this series) uncles, firstly at ‘Gooandra’ in the Monaro high plains north of Kosciuszko, then for two months on the western slopes of the Great Divide, at Talbingo where she was born. Here she wrote both GGG and the first draft of Back to Bool Bool.
That she was there shows in both her detailed descriptions of the country, the setting for GGG is based on Gooandra, and in the knowledge she displays of the then dominant wool industry.
Gyang Gyang Plains station is maintained by Sylvester Labosseer to provide summer feed for sheep from his ‘home’ property in central NSW. The living conditions are relatively primitive, but summers in the highlands are mild, and since the death of his wife, Labosseer has preferred to spend much of his time there. Peter Poole, his foreman, is a grandson of the legendary Bert Poole (Ten Creeks Run) and apart from a tendency for unexplained ‘walkabouts’ is a true chip off the old block. The villain of the piece is Cedric Spires, a womaniser (of course) who appears to have a hold over Poole and is his rival for the affections of …
Bernice Gaylord, an artist (and a beauty), who had been the lover of another artist in Paris until he left her and broke her heart –
had reached a dead end which she mistook for the end of all things. The doctors spoke of a strained heart and hinted at TB, a diagnosis welcome to Bernice. it camouflaged her secret and explained the suspension of her career to her family and the Australian public interested in her unusual promise, which had suddenly dried up.
This is as close as we get to a Franklin figure in this novel. Roe writes that MF too had returned to Australia with supposed health problems that were really a cover for stress.
Gaylord, who is Labosseer’s god-daughter, has been invited to spend the summer at Gyang Gyang Plains while she recovers her health. Camping out on the side verandah, walking and riding around the property, she not only recovers her health, and develops a healthy interest in Peter Poole, but also recovers her motivation to begin painting again.
This is an excuse for Franklin to get on a hobby horse she has hitherto concealed – naturalism in art:
There were those who maintained … the Australian atmosphere could not be painted, it was too brilliant; the life could not be convincingly told in fiction, it was too monotonous and lacking in that kind of action which the elementary reader calls plot. The need was for painters and novelists, as well as the ungifted, to break out of the established rut … a fresh contribution must be made to technique.
In short, over summer Gaylord produces a portfolio of portraits and landscapes that ‘revolutionise’ Australian painting.
We could point Franklin towards the late C19th Heidelberg school of Australian Impressionism (who would be brave enough to direct her gaze to more current movements like cubism or surrealism!) and towards those writers roughly contemporaneous with Streeton et al whose work redefined realism in Australian writing – Lawson, Baynton, Rudd, Furphy and, yes, Franklin. But now, a year or so short of 50, she really was a very old fashioned woman.
Franklin proceeds by “possuming”, that is discursively or by story telling, with plenty of description, at which she excels. Here, Gaylord gets inspiration:
She walked out in the dew-drenched tussocks under the gums standing like snow queens in perfumed bridal dress. Never was such colossal yet honeyed loveliness for miles, and miles, and miles, She was out of herself with joyous excitement.
The men on the isolated station are all fascinated at having a beautiful woman in their midst; the publican’s daughters do their best to put forward their own attractions; various rural catastrophes threaten and are averted; as in all the best romances, true love is achieved at the last possible moment.
In 1928 Franklin submitted GGG to the Bulletin‘s novel competition for that year* under the further pseudonym ‘by Australian Born’ and that was the last that was seen of it for nearly 30 years.
Miles Franklin, Gentlemen at Gyang Gyang, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1956
For other Miles Franklin posts and reviews go to:
*The joint winners of the 1928 Bulletin prize were A House is Built by M. Barnard Eldershaw and Coonardoo by KS Prichard.